Dr Noshaba Khiljee is a Consultant Nephrologist and Physician at Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, and was a parliamentary candidate in 2019.
In March 2021, the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell, published its long-awaited report. It looked at four main areas: education and training; employment; crime and policing; and health.
In terms of health, the release of the Government’s response to the report has mostly been welcomed by healthcare professionals in the UK like myself. It is greatly appreciated to see the Government addressing such issues within ethnic minority groups. You can go to this website for more info.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected ethnic minority groups, with higher death rates in Black and Asian communities. On top of this, minority groups have historically tended to be worse affected by chronic medical conditions and have lower access to healthcare services.
Furthermore, minority communities are more likely to experience living and working conditions that predispose them to worse healthcare outcomes.
Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that deaths from Covid-19 in the black and Bangladeshi communities was over four times that of the white population.
In addition, intensive care data also revealed an alarming picture. Although ethnic groups constitute 17 per cent of the UK population, they made up to a third of patients admitted to intensive care units during the pandemic.
Similar trends were also seen amongst staff working in the NHS. Some reports showed over 50 per cent of all deaths were from health workers born outside the UK, who represent less than 18 per cent of the workforce.
Furthermore, doctors from ethnic communities make up 44 per cent of doctors working in the NHS, yet 95 per cent of Covid-19 deaths occurred in this group. The first 11 deaths all belonged to ethnic groups, sadly including a prominent senior consultant working in my own hospital.
Amongst nursing staff, 60 per cent of all deaths occurred in ethnic minority groups who make up only 20 per cent of the workforce.
The Government’s report, Inclusive Britain, is looking to identify the causes of such health outcome differences, and to focus on prevention by looking into ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and geographical factors.
This report, launched by Kemi Badenoch, the Equalities Minister, outlines a solid plan of action on how to address these issues on health, education, employment, crime, and policing as well as enterprise.
This is something many healthcare professionals like myself have been campaigning about – to understand the cause of such disparities and finding solutions – I am pleased to see this report address these issues.
We had seen a low uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine amongst the black and Asian community, including healthcare professionals. This may have been caused by a legacy of deep-rooted mistrust in vaccines and health services because of historic discrimination.
Recognising this, the Government has worked with key stakeholders, such as in collaboration community leaders, to halve the rate of vaccine hesitancy in black adults.
Coming from an ethnic group myself, I was pleased to see the Government, with the help of many trusted voices such as local faith leaders, influencers, social media and many volunteers, turn this into one of the most successful vaccines rollouts in the world.
We should also not forget that Britain was the first country in the world to administer the first dose. To date, 141 million doses have been administered, equivalent to more than 70 per cent of people fully vaccinated in the UK.
The Government has used extensive communication campaigns, both at local and national levels, to build trust and hence increase the vaccine uptake in ethnic minority groups markedly. Such efforts have been welcomed by medical experts, who themselves have campaigned vigorously to address such concerns.
The levelling-up agenda has also addressed the unacceptable health inequalities in society, particularly amongst ethnic minorities. This includes inequalities in areas such as housing deprivation, tobacco and alcohol use, diet, and physical activity.
The report also looks at the need for ethnic minority groups to participate in clinical trials and research, such as promoting the INCLUDE Ethnicity Framework. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is looking at the potential bias caused by the design of medical devices and its impact on patients from different ethnic groups.
This could potentially affect diagnosis and treatment in such patients but awaits the findings of Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead’s report in 2023.
The Government’s report has also put in place how the health and social care regulators will measure workforce diversity and inclusion in all their inspections. For instance, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will look at how hospitals are addressing the experiences, progression, and disciplinary actions in respect of ethnic minority staff in their workforce.
The pandemic has helped the government to learn lessons regarding ethnic minority groups. Their report has been welcomed and will help to build trust in our health institutions.
This will be vital in tackling the stark disparities in health outcomes across the UK, to ensure everyone can have the opportunity to live long, healthy lives wherever they live.
Although I can’t say this will tackle all inequalities, the Government has definitely taken some steps taken in the right direction and only time will tell.